Measuring Nontraditional Student Success: An Imperative for Colleges and Universities

​University Professional and Continuing Education Association in partnership with InsideTrack (2012)

Reviewed by Pat Windham

This short paper produced by the UPCEA Center for Research and Consulting with InsideTrack is based on a survey of 357 UPCEA member institutions. Of the 77 institutions that completed the survey, 52 percent were public baccalaureate granting, 29 percent were private, and 19 percent were for-profit or less than baccalaureate.

The survey stems from attention to the need for the United States to increase the percentage of adults with baccalaureate degrees, which will not happen without a rise in adult completion rates. As the paper indicates, there is remarkable consensus on the need to improve degree attainment, but there is little agreement on how to measure intermediate progress toward that goal.


The study was designed to gain information about adult student completion processes, student tracking, support systems, and data definitions required to move forward with the development of an appropriate measuring system. Specific questions included:
* How well do institutions understand the root causes of adult student attrition?
* What initiatives to strengthen adult student retention and completion rates are currently underway? 
* Are institutions measuring the impact of these initiatives?
The detailed findings allow an institution to compare itself to other adult-serving institutions and contain a list of services that have been shown to be useful for this population.
Survey respondents expressed that there was no need to track either retention or graduation rates of adult students. The institutions had support systems in place and seemed to believe that those systems were working, but with very little data to back up those assumptions. Some institutions seemed to be caught up in the need to provide for every possible variation among students, and therefore did not try to put an overall data program in place. Data definitions were left to accreditation entities to develop, and it was assumed that the institutions would meet those entities’ standards, whatever they turned out to be.
These results led the authors of this paper to recommend that institutions focus their initial efforts on the broadest sets of adult students. More specific follow-up on selected sub-groups of students can be done later. Also, institutions should “embrace measurements, transparency and accountability as a natural element of ensuring student and institutional success.

As more emphasis is placed on adult students, this paper encourages the reader to develop a list of questions to consider, ideas for support systems of value to those students, and potential next steps in better serving adult students.

The paper provides a good overview of the current situation for adult students, at least among UPCEA members. The questions behind the survey provide a list of items institutions should consider as they develop appropriate services for adult students. The executive summary shares obstacles to establishing measurement systems for adult learners and recommendations for the future.
The detailed findings allow an institution to compare itself to other adult-serving institutions and contain a list of services that have been shown to be useful for this population. While the paper does not provide measures that could be used to track non-traditional students, the questions and support programs are good starting points for an institution that would like to develop its own approach for tracking adult students.
The short amount of time it takes to download and read this paper is worth the effort for institutions serving adult learners. Both the survey questions and recommendations provide an opportunity to reflect on what is needed to assist adult students as they progress toward degrees.


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Total Comments: 2
Fay posted on 10/7/2012 5:20 PM
So, where do we find the paper to download?
Shannon posted on 11/13/2012 8:52 AM
FAY - I had to actually go on the Inside Track website. See if this link works for you (you have to provide your contact info before you can download the report).